05/24/2013, 00.00
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Marian devotion overcomes religious barriers in India

by Nirmala Carvalho
People of all religions flock to Mary, so much so that 80% of the pilgrims to Marian shrines are non-Catholics, including Muslims. On the occasion of the feast of Mary Help of Christians, AsiaNews speaks with an expert in the scriptures, Fr. Errold Fernandes, to understand this phenomenon of interfaith harmony.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Marian devotion in India overcomes religious barriers and more than 80% of pilgrims to Marian sanctuaries are non-Catholics. They bring all kinds of offerings - flowers, garlands, coconuts - and it is not unusual to see women dressed in burqas who pray to Our Lady. On the occasion of the feast of Mary Help of Christians, which falls on May 24, AsiaNews spoke with the Jesuit scriptures scholar, Errold Fernandes, to better understand the phenomenon.

"The mother goddess has always been venerated from the earliest times. Durga and Kali are some examples of this veneration - explained the Jesuit - despite the fact that the girl child is frowned upon and in many cases women are treated as objects rather then persons, Indian tradition has contradictorily held women/mother goddesses in high esteem. Mary, the mother of Jesus is also venerated by people of all faiths in many parts of India. Velankanni in Chennai, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and Mount Mary in Mumbai are striking examples of such veneration and honour given to Mary. People are able to see in Mary (and by extension in 'Mother goddesses') s figure who will fulfil their aspirations and answer their prayers. "

Father Errol is also an expert in new media and has traveled extensively throughout the country and keeps a blog (http://errolsj.blogspot.com ), explaining the Scriptures. "The intercession of Mary is seen very clearly in the Catholic Scriptures" the scholar continues. "At the beginning of the Gospel of John, the intervention and intercession of Mary is responsible for the water being turned into wine by Jesus. And this despite the fact that 'his hour had not yet come'. Mary is with the first group of Apostles constantly praying with them for the coming of the spirit (Acts 1:14). In recent times, the intercession of Mary has been responsible for numerous favours that people have received. I have heard from so many who make the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour that seeming impossible situations have become possible through Mary's intercession. These include conception of a child after many years, acquisition of a job, settlement of family disputes and the like. In my own life, I believe that it is the constant intercession of Mary which keeps me optimistic and positive despite the many challenges that come my way each day. "

With regard to the Marian shrines in India, as an example of religious harmony, Fr. Errol Francis Pope recalls: "As Pope Francis has recently said, our God is too big to be pigeon-holed or placed in a box. God is bigger that anything we can ever imagine and as human beings we need to realise this. Often we tend to make God in our image and likeness and so restrict God to a Church/Mosque/Temple or other place of worship. This is a disservice to God. It is a wonderful example of religious harmony when we see people of all faiths converge to pray to God who is all and in all. "

The priest went on to explain why it is not strange to see Muslim women pray to the Virgin Mary. "Mary is the only woman mentioned explicitly in the Koran. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception and, also, in her Virgin Birth. The third chapter of the Koran places the history of Mary's family in a genealogy which goes back through Abraham, Noah, and Adam.  The Koran has also verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. In the nineteenth chapter, there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. "

"I think anyone who is devoted to Our Lady - concludes Fr. Errol - is on the right track. It was never known that anyone who fled to her protection was left unaided. Mary will never let any devotee stop at her, but will always leads people to God" .


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